5 Problems with Betting on College Sports

by Michael Stevens
on May 27, 2018

Minute Read

Betting on college sports is in many ways a dream for sports bettors. You have access to numerous games and opportunities to make money.

This is a big reason why many gamblers fall in love with college sports, particularly NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football. Each of these games offers a number of high-profile matchups throughout the season.

College basketball has the added benefit of March Madness, which is one of the world’s biggest annual sporting events. Meanwhile, football offers big rivalry games and the College Football Playoff.

Collegiate sports are a great way to earn profits if you become a skilled better. But amateurs will find several major roadblocks on the path to success.

Keep reading as I discuss the five biggest problems with college sports betting so that you can identify and overcome them.

1. Early Season Contests Are Unpredictable

Betting on college sports early in the season can be a two-way street.

On one hand, it’s harder for bookmakers to set accurate lines in the early portion of the season. This is due to roster turnover and a lack of game action for each team.

But the problem for bettors is that they’re also dealing with the same disadvantages. You don’t have many numbers to work with during the first few games of the year, and teams are still developing chemistry at this point.

Another problem is that it’s tough to gauge each school’s motivation going into their early games. A big reason why is that schools are playing out of conference at this point, and they may come out flat against unknown opponents.

You also have to consider that teams try different schemes and lineups to see what works best. They often use inferior opponents to test out new things.

This helps a school down the road because they can figure out what does and doesn’t work for them. But it creates more unpredictability for bettors because they don’t know if a school will rely on their strengths.

Some sports bettors are masters of early-season college football and/or basketball. Others have just as good a chance of winning with lottery tickets as they do picking early season winners.

If you use a heavy numbers-based approach in sports wagering, then you may want to skip the initial games of the college sports season until you have more data.

2. Huge Disparities between Favorites and Underdogs

One of the most interesting things about college sports is the vast disparity between certain favorites and underdogs. This happens when high-profile schools play tune-up games against lesser-known opponents.

This is good for the bigger school because they get their bench players game time in an easy home contest. It’s good for the smaller schools because they get paid a lot to take these beatings.

You can see why these matchups take place from the schools’ perspectives. But these games feel impossible to handicap due to the big line differences.

Here’s an example of what you’ll see in a college football point spread between a Power 5 team and an FCS opponent:

  • UC Davis -20.5 (-110)
  • California +20.5 (-110)

20.5 points is a wide margin to try and predict. The game itself is unlikely to be competitive, which means that the Power 5 school’s lack of motivation could shift the line towards the FCS team.

Here’s another example using a moneyline in a college basketball game:

  • Central Michigan +425
  • Michigan -505

Considering that Michigan has a great chance to win, this can be an easy profit. But you also have to risk 5x what you stand to win on the Wolverines.

Some bettors will still feel that the risk is worth the reward in this situation. But I’m personally leery of risking money when the payoff is so little.

The good news is that you can simply avoid these David vs. Goliath bets and look for more-balanced propositions.

3. Too Many Bets to Choose From

Professional sports leagues are limited to a small number of teams. The NBA and MLB have 30 teams, the NHL has 31, and the NFL has 32.

These numbers pale in comparison to the 129 Division 1 FBS football teams and 347 Division 1 basketball schools. Considering the massive amount of Division 1 teams in college football and basketball, there are lots of games to choose from every season.

This is perfect for a professional sports bettor who wants to capitalize on as many contests as possible. But it can be a nightmare for an undisciplined bettor who can’t focus.

Too many losing gamblers like to chase their losses. And this is a huge problem for undisciplined college sports bettors because there’s always another opportunity around the corner.

I’ve known basketball gamblers who will start an evening with a losing Big East bet at 7:30 pm EST. They’ll then wager on a 10:30 pm EST WAC game in hopes of winning their money back.

They flirt with disaster in this scenario because they’re not wagering on the late game based on a great opportunity. Instead, they’re merely gambling out of desperation to win their money back.

The best way to handle college sports betting is to have a plan and stick with it. This helps keep you from being tempted by the large betting variety offered in NCAA basketball and football.

I suggest having a strong bankroll management plan in place to help with discipline. You can start by breaking your bankroll down into 100 units.

Here’s an example:

  • You have a $2,000 bankroll.
  • 2,000 / 100 = 20
  • Your unit size is $20.

The next step is to only bet 1-3 units per contest. Most of your wagers should be worth 1 unit, but you can increase this to 2-3 units when you’re really confident.

Finally, set a cap on how many games you’re willing to bet per week. For example, you could limit yourself to 5 or 10 total bets each week.

This keeps you from falling into the aforementioned trap of betting too often just to win back losses.

4. Handicapping Rivalry Games

Earlier I discussed how it’s tough to gauge motivation for teams playing out of conference early in the season. Rivalry games are on the opposite end of the spectrum because you have too much motivation to deal with.

A rival matchup decreases the line distance between great and bad teams. College football is notorious for late-season rivalry games that see highly ranked favorites lose.

This creates scenarios where a 10-1 team may only be a -7 point-spread favorite against a 5-6 in-state rival. And while the favorite may ultimately blow out their opponent, bookmakers are always hesitant to create a large line disparity.

Rivalry games are traditionally close due to the motivation, history, and familiarity that opponents share with each other. Trash talking from last season’s contest will carry over to the next year, where the loser looks to get revenge.

It’s hard to put proper value on how familiarity and motivation factor into rivalry games. Even sportsbooks can struggle to put an accurate line on matchups like Michigan vs. Ohio State, Alabama vs. Auburn, or UCLA vs. USC.

This is another situation that you might want to avoid when it comes to betting college sports. Sure, it’s tempting to wager on a rivalry game involving your favorite school.

But the motivational and history factors make it difficult to consistently win rivalry bets.

5. Teams Experience a Lot of Turnover

Football and basketball schools have traditions when it comes to winning and losing. Duke’s basketball team is an ACC powerhouse, while Georgia Tech typically finishes towards the bottom of the conference.

Coaching and the school’s commitment to the program are what keep teams within a certain win-loss range.

Mike Krzyzewski has coached the Blue Devils for 38 seasons, and his coaching prowess has led Duke to five NCAA Basketball championships.

Of course, recruiting also plays a big role in success. A talented recruit choosing one school over the other makes a huge difference.

One example is when Steph Curry went to Davidson in 2006. The Wildcats hadn’t been past the NCAA Tournament’s first round since 1969 before he arrived.

But with Curry, who averaged 25.3 points per game in his Davidson career, they advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2007-08 campaign.

Not every example is this extreme. But recruiting and roster turnover can drastically change a team’s fortunes from one season to the next.

It’s often difficult to predict how graduating seniors and incoming freshman will impact a football or basketball team.

Sometimes blue-chip recruits struggle to adjust to the college game and end up riding the bench. 2 or 3-star recruits can earn a starting role and make big contributions to a team’s success.

It doesn’t help matters that roster turnover happens so often at the college level. Players only have four years of eligibility before they’re gone.

The more-talented players usually don’t use all four years, because they leave college early to make money in the pros. The end result is that you have another unpredictable factor thrown into the mix.

You can guess how teams will do early on when looking at their recruiting talent. But using this factor offers no guarantee of success.


My overall point isn’t to dissuade you from betting on college sports. You can find a number of quality opportunities in NCAA Football and Basketball every season.

But it’s important to be aware of the problems associated with betting on the college game. Understanding these problems ahead of time helps you conquer them and place better bets.

The most difficult time for amateurs to wager on college sports is the early season. This is the point when teams are still ironing out their lineup, offensive plays, and defensive schemes.

Some experienced bettors are able to make profits amidst this chaos. But I don’t recommend that beginners spend too much time betting within the first couple weeks of the college football or basketball season.

One dilemma that both experience and beginning bettors run into is wagering on too many games. College sports offer a tempting slate full of many matchups.

But you need the discipline to ignore the vast majority of these contests and only focus on the games you know. Developing a strong bankroll management plan and sticking to it will help you avoid the pitfalls of college sports betting.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for hot-casino.com since early 2016.

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